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Changes to dock policy aired
Corps' plan could free up many slips on lake
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Forsyth County News

How to comment
Comments on proposed changes to the Lake Lanier Shoreline Management Plan will be accepted until July 14. E-mail comments to ernest.noe@usace.army.mil or send by mail to Lake Sidney Lanier, Shoreline Management, c/o 2011 SMP Update, P.O. Box 567, Buford, GA 30515.

Proposed changes to the Lake Lanier Shoreline Management Plan would require developers to begin lakeside projects in the next few years or risk losing their coveted community dock permits.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the lake, held the first of three public participation meetings about the policy update Monday night at Forsyth Central High School.

The proposal also would establish guidelines for permits that have been revoked or not renewed.

Under the existing setup, community dock permits were issued on preliminary plans that haven’t necessarily been approved by local governments, said Ernest Noe, chief ranger of shoreline management.

The proposal would require those with the community permits to submit approval of final plat by Dec. 1, 2014, in order to get them renewed. Final plat is generally granted when all infrastructure is in place for the development.

The proposed changes are aimed at granting the limited number of dock permits available on Lanier to those who have “made a commitment to development,” not putting large docks where no development exists, Noe said.

“In some cases it will be a burden [to developers], but because we’ve issued these permits the way they have been ... to a lot of the public it looks speculative,” he said.

“In this plan, there’s a deadline, and you have to meet that deadline to prove that you’re not doing this for speculative reasons, that you want to make an investment and a development.”

He said some residents near large proposed community docks have opposed developers’ permits since they believe there is no intent to develop.

The number of dock permits for Lanier remains capped at 10,615, as determined by the corps’ management plan and an accompanying Environmental Impact Statement completed in 2004.

The corps stopped issuing permits about three years ago during a lengthy drought that saw the lake level drop by 20 feet.

The agency relaxed the moratorium as the lake's elevation began rising, launching a lottery process to determine the order in which permits can be considered for approval.

Noe estimated that about 100 permits remain, and the lottery process is still under way.

The proposed changes came about, he said, as the corps weighed how to address what happens when a permit is dropped.

Also included in the proposed changes to the plan is a provision to issue permits annually when others are revoked or not renewed.

Permits still will need to be renewed every five years.

With community docks, two slips, or places to dock a boat, equal one permit.

“If we have a community dock that has 100 slips and doesn’t meet the deadline, that’s 50 permits back in the system that we can start issuing,” Noe said.

Developers of lake properties fear that’s exactly what could happen to their permits if they don’t hit the 2014 deadline imposed by the possible policy changes.

Judd Davis said the policy would force property owners to develop in an economy that isn’t ideal to do so or lose their coveted dock permits.

“Really, with that date, we would have to start today,” Davis said.

He plans to write a letter to protest the deadline, which he believes is unfair to set at this time.

Noe said the guideline has always been for developers to reach final plat by 2013, but it was never put into writing.

“We’re not killing the developers by forcing any unreal rules on them, but we’re also setting policy and guidelines to force them to follow,” Noe said.

A process for new community dock permits could also be put into place.

Those guidelines would put the five-year time limit on community docks for developers to get final plat approval, and not allow any dock construction until it was obtained.

The other public meetings on the changes are scheduled for May in Hall County and June in Dawson County. Comments are also accepted by email or mail through July 14.

After the public process has ended, the corps’ district office will review the changes and decide on what policy changes to make, if any, Noe said.